1870, St Petersburg.
Portly investigating magistrate Porfiry Petrovich [originally created by F.M. Dostoevsky] and his younger assistant Pavel Pavlovich Virginsky are faced by crimes at opposite ends of the wide social spectrum of Russian society.
Mitka, a child worker in one of St Petersburg’s foreign owned factories has been strangled. He was attending school in an attempt to escape from his life of perpetual drudgery. His teacher Maria Petrovna Verhotseva requests that Porfiry investigate the murder and the disappearance of other children who attended the school.
But before he can begin the beautiful courtesan Yelena Filippovna Polenova, is murdered at a benefit evening for Maria Petrovna’s school held at the luxurious Naryskin Palace. Captain Mizinchikov, an officer of the Preobrazhensky Regiment and one of Yelena’s lovers, runs from the palace and appears to be the main suspect.
Porfiry Petrovich and Pavel Pavlovich become embroiled in a dangerously complex investigation involving nihilist revolutionaries, Tsar Alexander II, corrupt Princes, Jewish bankers, the ruthless Third Section secret police and even anatomy schools.
A bell rang. A professor in a white coat entered and strode up to the lecture podium at one end of the room.
‘Gentlemen,’ he said. ‘Uncover your heads.’
This fine historical crime fiction novel took my mind entirely off the pain in my leg. There can be no finer praise from someone with such a low pain threshold.
One moment I was on page 20 and the next page 316 entirely involved in the story and authentic atmosphere created by author Roger Morris.
The author does not flinch from the politically incorrect but accurate portrayal of the period.
‘….Moscow Merchant’s and their propagandists are always whipping up public opinion against us.’
‘Outsiders. You, a Jew. Me, a foreigner.’
‘I am not a Jew. I am a Christian.’
‘In their eyes, you are a Yid. always will be. You are Iakov’s son. Me, I’m no foreigner, I’m as Russian as you. But I have a foreign name [von Lembke]. That is enough for them.’
To write about Tsarist Russia, well actually any Russia, and fail to mention the endemic anti-semitism and xenophobia would be like writing about Sicily and failing to mention the Mafia.
A Razor Wrapped In Silk is both an excellent crime mystery, and fascinating portrait of Russian society in a period when the Tsar made a series of great reforms in an attempt to prevent revolution.
Coming soon an interview with Roger Morris.